I have been a bit silent for the past few days. Last Saturday I finished up the paperwork and rode home my first motorcycle. The last week has been very interesting for me. In a way I feel like I am a new person – something about me internally has changed for the better. But so far it has been an interesting journey. Here is how I started it:
After a bunch of internal back and forth going over should I get a smaller displacement bike in the 300/500cc category such as an Yamaha R3 or a Honda CBR500R or should I get the Honda CBR650F that fits me just right? In the end I decided that fit was way more important than a smaller engine. This was partly due to the fact that the inline-4 in this bike had no real torque spikes and every review mentioned that the power came on smoothly. But also many people who know me all thought that I would be level headed and would keep myself out of trouble. While not a supersport bike, it still puts out 86 horsepower at the crank and 77 at the rear wheel according to most dyno tests, which was something that weighed on the back of my mind.
This was not a decision I took lightly. I was hyper-conscience about what I was going to have between my legs. After I did the wire transfer to the dealer, I was wondering if I made the right decision preventing me from sleeping well last Friday night.
On that Saturday morning, one of my friends who rides picks me up so I can deal with the dealer and then tail me on the ride home. After all of the paperwork is signed, I do a bunch of back and forths in the alley behind the dealer trying to get used to it. Real quick I realize that there really wasn’t much to fear for me. The fit is nearly perfect and I felt no issues controlling it. If I kept the RPMs in a reasonable range, nothing bad was happening. After 30 minutes I hit the road with my friend in tow behind me.
Real quick I realized that I was going to need to do a bunch of parking lot maneuvers, my right hand turns were wide. There was rain on the way and postponed finding a parking lot until Sunday morning. But other than stalling a bunch of times, I was finding this real easy to handle. Part of me was wondering why so many people are against someone new learning on larger bikes, especially when they are a larger individual like myself. But I got home safely, got the bike pulled in in front of my car and decided that I would go find an empty parking lot on Sunday morning, which is a hard thing to do in SF, and practice slow speed turns and turns from stops.
That I did for 45 minutes until a van parked in the middle lot area where I was doing tight figure eight turns. But at that point, I was ready for some coffee and food. And this is where things started to re-wire for me. I was not in my normal neighborhood and I needed to explore. Since I was by the zoo, I just ended up at Java Beach Cafe. But I would normally never end up there since there was no reason to. I immediately start to get what I wanted out of the bike, breaking out my neighborhood and 7×7 square mile of a city.
The next thing I do is drive down Highway 35 until it merges with 280. This forces me to start getting used to starting the bike up hills, but in a very controlled situation with light traffic. Eventually it is time to merge with 280. At this point, I have really yet to be above 45mph, time to open things up a bit more. Without effort, I was doing 80mph and things were just smooth as butter and stable. I got off the freeway a bit later and rode around some roads I cycle and then headed home. This is where I realized that the power of a motorcycle can be insane – while following a BMW M5 on 280, we passed some cars. I looked down at the speedo and saw it indicating 100. I did not feel like I was doing that, but it was time to slow down and stop following that Beemer.
In the end I got home safely. But my adventures continued. Shortly after, I got a call from a friend who needed have his body shaven for an event. So time to make a b-line to the bike again. However, this was my first uphill traffic jam with no opportunity to lane split. By the time I got through it, I was really familiar with the clutch and how to start from a stop up hills on the bike. If anything learning to ride in SF is a trial by fire.
Tuesday made me grateful that I insisted on getting ABS. Someone jotted out in front of me and I had to stop hard on Market St and hit an oil patch on the road. The rear ABS went off, but everything stayed right on the line I wanted and there was no drama. For the life of me, I don’t understand why this is even an option for anyone who wants to ride in traffic or city conditions.
On Wednesday I decided to ride down to the office. I left at 5:45am mainly because I was up and I wanted to beat traffic. There was something magical about my first ride down 101 at dawn. Flying past all of the towns on the Peninsula, breathing in all of the smells, feeling the wind hit me, and watching the sun rise was just one of those magical experiences. It felt right out of a movie.
Once I hit Palo Alto, it started to cool off, and before I knew it, I was tucked in behind the windscreen with my chin resting on the tank bag. Honestly, I can care less if other people think it is douchey to go into a full, or mostly full, sportbike tuck on the roads. But when it is 37 outside and you are going 80 mph being behind the windscreen is a good thing.
On my commute home on Thursday I finally end up lane splitting on 101. And what people forget about it is that people generally make space for you here in the Bay Area. After giving it a quick thought, I saw a good line up until the next bend, and went for it. It wasn’t that bad and way less nerve wrecking than trying to bicycle in downtown SF. In the end, I have never gotten home so quick during heavy traffic periods – I was at my front door in less than an hour! In some ways I wonder if my comfort level is higher because of all of the cycling.
After getting a bit more comfortable splitting lanes, I started filtering more at red lights. All of these little things are becoming a bit less stressful and more natural as I spend more time on the bike. Furthermore, all of my actions are getting smoother. If anything, it seems like there is no substitute for time on the bike.
But throughout this, I know I am exposed. I know that I am invisible. I know that I have something between my legs that have a power-to-weight ratio of an exotic car. There is a healthy respect and fear about what I am doing, and that is still there.